The Eyes Tell The Stories

The Eyes Tell The Story

The eyes stare at me from the photograph, beckoning me to explore.  I turn it over, determined to learn more.  If I’m lucky, I find a name or date to lead me to the story.  If I’m really lucky, I get more-a narrative, a nugget of information, a description of the subject’s outfit.  Regardless, I file the image and search for more clues.

This summer my husband and I are spending hours digging into our family histories.  After inheriting 27 boxes of loose photos, albums, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, letters, and assorted memorabilia, we are determined to put it in order and discover the untold stories, hoping to add to a long legacy left in our hands.

We start by searching for names and likenesses.  Two generations back-no problem.  We remember the Christmas celebrations, the Easter egg hunts and hilarious outfits of the sixties and seventies.  Recaptured vacations to Lake Tahoe and Yosemite amuse us.  We still visit the same houses and sit on the furniture, eat at the tables and sleep in the guest rooms.  Letters to our grandparents, thanking them, are sprinkled amongst the images.

Three generations back-yes, we knew some of them.  Distant memories from our childhoods stream through our minds like an old filmstrip in elementary school.  The cracks and blurriness only delete fragments, allowing the stories to flow in bits and pieces.  The old Model T and beach cottage.  The Oakland homestead, now a shopping center.  The softness of her lap, and the heartiness of his laugh.  The eyes of those who died before our birth, only remembered through those that they left.  Skiing, really?  Yosemite Falls looked the same then.  Letters from the war are tucked in between.

Digging deeper-four generations.  The path sometimes stops abruptly-a widow?  An immigration, or perhaps one shunned by their family?  The photos are black and white now, the images lacking much detail or expression.  The dress is formal, the postures upright.  The proud automobile owners pose with smiling eyes.  The doll house stands in front of the Christmas tree, ready to be treasured.  The newspaper clippings tell us of his college athletic statistics, proudly preserved by a mother.  Letters explaining the death of a loved one, far away, gather in a box.

On and on the stories go, some now limited to names and dates we eagerly find and place on our pedigree.  Bits of stories gleaned from documents and treasures fill in some gaps, and create new tales in branches otherwise unknown.  A sea captain, a wagon train, a sea voyage, a football escapade.  Immigrants from Canada, Scotland, Germany, England, and those who have been right here, in America, since the beginning, come to life. 

As we sort and search their eyes bore into my mind, driving me to open the next box, read the next letter, search for the next clue to our history.  What I’ve learned is that their eyes stare from the same places, although time separates us.  These people celebrated the same way, valued the same possessions, and wanted to share the same stories that we do.

What I’m still learning are their stories.  I smile as I think of all that I have yet to discover within these boxes, and open another.  Another set of eyes gazes at me.

Will we ever learn them all?

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe at jenniferwolfe.net.

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  1. So what’s with the red eyes? Spooky! I enjoyed your essay. It brought to mind all the similar photos I have stashed away in a box. It also makes me wonder… years from now, will someone be doing this with MY family photos? There will be WAY too many!

  2. What a great essay! I love the idea of digging through photos. A few years back my dad gave each of my sisters and me a big box filled with all the picutres that related to us. I was able to sneak a few great shots of my parents. One day I will turn it into something but for now I just love to go though the box with my own kids! Great to find you on VoiceBoks!! I’m now happily following you!!

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